The following is a guest post from an undergraduate student in the Marine Ecology class that I was a TA for last semester. See the entire student blog at http://marineecologyblog.web.unc.edu/
A discussion of Marko et al’s “Fisheries: Mislabelling of a depleted reef fish”, 2004
By Michael Auriemma
So men, picture you are on a date with a beautiful woman at a upscale seafood restaurant. You and your date decide to order a plate of tasty fish. Naturally, to impress her, you go with the pricey and high quality red snapper. Red snapper is, of course, the prized menu item at this restaurant, and it is the most well known recipe. So the choice for you is easy. After ordering, you further try to impress your date with your extensive experience and knowledge of the red snapper. You tell her some simple facts how you know they thrive in coral reef ecosystems in the Gulf of Mexico, along with other useless things like how big the last red snapper you caught from your yacht was, and so on.
But, little did you know that your wonderful date sitting across from you actually knows an important thing or two about this very species of fish that millions eat every day; because she recently read Marko et al’s 2004 article, “Fisheries: Mislabeling of a depleted reef fish”. Once you finish your attempt to impress her with information she already knows, she brings up the article’s claim concerning the fact that the “red snapper”, L. campechanus, in your plate that you seemed to know so much about is most likely not even red snapper at all. She goes on to explain how she learned the paper that anywhere from 60 to 94% of “red snapper” is sold illegally misnamed as such. She tells you that what you just received is probably another species of snapper, like the lane snapper (L. synagris), vermillion snapper (R. aurorubens), or crimson snapper (L. erythropterus). The fish in your plate may even been caught in a very distant region of the globe, or is an entirely different type of fish altogether (Marko et al, 2004).
She continues, including the fact that red snapper are highly overfished in the United States, and are recognized by a number of fisheries and organizations to be at risk and in serious need of population recovery. Before she leaves to go take fish tissue samples in the restaurant for further DNA and phylogenic examination, she leaves you the same message with which Marko et al concludes:
Mislabeling of fish is a widespread dishonest and dangerous issue in fisheries around the world. It’s bad enough that you are being lied to about the food you are eating. But fish populations are struggling on top of that. These false fishery reports of catch can result in poor population size analyses of all different types of already overfished species. These incorrect reports can lead to false sense of security in some of our global fish stocks, and can ultimately lead to increased overfishing, unsustainable fishing techniques, and endangerment of numerous fish species populations.
And that awesome, wonderful, beautiful woman then walks away. The date is over, and needless to say, you will be very lucky to ever take her on another. You have a better chance of actually getting red snapper next time you order one at this restaurant.